It was a lovely, slender braid of red merino wool that drew me in at Vortex Yarn Shop, and I bought two of them to crochet a scarf for my husband, an avid Red Sox fan. The evenly spaced, textured strands fell easily into place giving it an elegant, supple feel, luxurious, almost. I couldn’t wait to turn it into something my husband would hold close to his heart that would keep his neck warm all winter long.
I had just completed my first two crocheting projects, a baby blanket for a great-granddaughter and a scarf that I made with the leftover skein. My husband admired it so much he suggested I make one for his brother for Christmas, and even suggested a red one for him. Hence, the purchase of said red.
Who knew what would happen when I tried to make a ball out of this yarn? My mother, a knitter, often asked my sisters and me to stand still with our arms perpendicular so she could make up a ball out of the yarn she had, so I thought I knew how to do it. Problem? No one nearby to stand there the way I did. And we have no good straight-back chairs in the house, either.
I thought I’d make do with a lamp, just hanging it over and being careful about tangles. I can hear the laughter already among knitters who might be reading this piece right now. I imagine every one of you must have experienced the gradual clarity of a similar snarl of complexity you had created with every tiny effort to loosen the multiplying tangles you encountered. There are dozens of metaphors one might use to describe this fall from grace and ease into a snarling, wrenching, maze of dead ends that seem to happen without so much as a ‘by your leave.’
I ask you, why are there no warning signs on the label? No directions on how to go from skein to ball? I looked it up on youtube, and did get instructions, but nowhere near the specificity I needed. I even had the awareness that I should call my knitting aficionado friend Joan to see if she had any tricks up her sleeve, but she wasn’t home, so I just thought, “How hard can it be?” and set to doing it myself.
I wish I had had the presence of mind to take a photo of the heap of various and sundry tangled up red knots all over my lap, but I was too busy denying how bad things really were. I kept being surprised and frustrated as each tiny movement of my hands made everything exponentially worse. I can’t repeat every utterance –some were guttural, others too vulgar to print, some just explosions of breath, intakes and exhales. What to do? There was no way back, once I started. It seemed entirely too easy to create this contortion. My husband walked by at several stages of my attempting to fix it, asking, “How did you do that?” and I would just grimace and say, “You wouldn’t believe how easy it was.”
I like to work at my projects while watching a baseball game that does not require much of my attention beyond listening unless someone makes a really good catch or hits the ball over the Green Monster. The game had just started when I hung the yarn from the stand-up lamp. By the time the announcers had read the lineups for each of the teams playing, it had fallen onto the floor in a heap. I gathered up the strands, looking as straggly and pathetic as a toddler’s well-worn sleep toy, holding them gingerly and hoping for a miracle. But before you can crochet, you need to be able to pull a thread of yarn and continue pulling it. I knew this. Deep down, I knew my choices boiled down to three: Do I chuck the whole thing and forfeit $25? Do I snip and splice and make more knots in the skein? Or do I hang in there and see this through to the finish?
Once I surrendered to my unwillingness to waste that kind of money, even if it was a good lesson learned, and with a pretty good idea of how many snippets I would have to inflict in order to loosen the bonds of this contortion, I prepared myself for overcoming the grueling obstacle.
Every few minutes my husband would look over at me and say, “Why don’t you take a break?” and I would insist on staying with it. The only thing worse than taking all this time would be to have to return to the job, day after day. No, I would see this through to the end.
During the second or third inning, I started to think that it would be good to find out where the end was. Maybe I could work at it from both ends. So I did that, and started a new ball, winding a few threads over my palm, and setting it down to pick up the bigger ball. As I worked at it, I thought of all the necklaces I’d untangled over the years, much smaller projects, requiring the same skills, patience, and the ability to loosen and widen knots so you could see what to reach for.
At various points, I was fighting the urge to yank and wrench with all my strength and just break the darn thing, but number one, I’m not that strong, and two, I really loved the feel of that merino wool. I knew it would be a beautiful gift once I’d passed this hurdle. I kept my eyes on the prize, as the spiritual goes, and held on to that image in my mind.
By the end of the sixth inning, my husband had lost interest in the game and was going outside to enjoy the cool evening air. “Do you need anything? Maybe some water?” Before he left, he voiced some worry that he would never be able to wear that scarf knowing how much pain and suffering I had endured before a single stitch was made. I thanked him for the drink he brought me and realized how something was happening inside me as well as with my fingers in this mess.
Even though the tangles, to my husband’s eye, were just as bad as ever, and sometimes looked even worse, I knew I was making progress. I could see from the tiniest growth in the balls of yarn I was adding to that this, too, would end. It was taking a long time, but I could do this. I even smiled a little, amazed at the peace of mind that was washing over me instead of the frustration and self-condemnation I had started out with. One of my favorite wisdom quips returned to me, “If you’re going through hell, keep going!!”
I also knew that this was the kind of mistake I would never, ever make again. And that felt good. It wasn’t a random occurrence; I had done this all by myself, unwittingly, unknowingly, and I was learning at least one important lesson that would stay with me. I was becoming a member of the sorority of knitters and crocheters, and I was earning my seat at whatever circle there is in heaven for people who have to learn this lesson the hard way.
Sometime during the eighth inning, my friend Joan called to see what I had wanted. When I told her of my plight, she laughed out loud and apologized immediately for laughing. “It’s okay,” I told her. “Someday I will laugh, too.” She told me there was a trick to winding a hank of yarn into a ball and she would share it with me. It had to do with stretching out the loop and making sure that not a single strand went below or above the ties that bind the strands together. If just one is out of its rightful spot on the loop, a morass of knots, tangles and what have you would result. Then she told me that she had a ball winder that took only five minutes and she’d be happy to do that for me for every skein of yarn I ever needed to make into a ball — forever.
The game ended, and we won. But I wasn’t through yet. I don’t know exactly how many hours it took me to straighten out the unwieldy snarls, but I know it was midnight when that ball you see in the photograph came into being. And then I stood up, stretched the kinks out of my body, reaching up to the ceiling and down to my toes, took my victory lap from the living room to the bedroom, slipped into bed and immediately to sleep. One more life lesson learned and laid to rest.
Eileen Wiard is a Spiritual Director and resident of Taos, NM. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.